Tonight Kansas begins the rebuilding process after coming off of a national runner up finish in 2011-2012. Rebuilding is probably not the right word for a program that has won eight straight Big 12 titles and returns three senior starters, but when you are replacing a top five pick and a four year starter a the point you probably have some work to do.
Fortunately the Jayhawks return three solid defenders in Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson and Bill Self has restocked the cupboard with a host of potential pieces to fill the holes left behind. Tonight is in all reality just an exhibition game. It won't count in the standings, Kansas isn't likely to lose and this game won't have the excitement of a regular season Big 12 matchup, but it is the start of something new and that's always welcome during the Fall in Lawrence.
Returning three starters off a spectacular team that advanced to the NCAA championship game has once again kept the bar high for Kansas men's basketball. KU welcomes nine freshmen, once again making the Jayhawks one of the youngest teams in the nation for head coach Bill Self--who enters his 10th season at KU with a 269-53 record for an 83.5 winning percentage.
Returning only one starter, last season the Jayhawks went 32-7 overall and 16-2 in the Big 12 Conference race, winning their school-record eighth-straight Big 12 regular-season title, 12th overall Big 12 championship and NCAA-leading 55th conference regular-season crown. Kansas advanced to its 14th Final Four and ninth NCAA Tournament title game in 2011-12.
Three seniors comprise the returning starters in guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford and center Jeff Withey. Johnson is KU's leading returning scorer averaging 10.2 points per game in 2011-12, while Releford scored 8.5 points per contest and averaged 4.2 rebounds per outing. Last season, Withey, the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, broke the Kansas and Big 12 Conference single-season blocked shots record with 140 blocks, including an NCAA Tournament-record 31 blocked shots in six games. Withey averaged 9.3 points per game and his 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots per contest to make him the returning stat leader in each of those categories. Other KU regulars from last year include senior forward Kevin Young (3.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), junior forward Justin Wesley (1.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg) and sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe (0.9 ppg, 0.7 apg). Walk-on guards Niko Roberts and Christian Garrett will provide depth on the perimeter for Kansas in 2012-13. Young broke his right hand and had surgery on Oct. 26. He is expected to miss approximately 10 days.
Kansas has nine freshmen on its roster this season with two - Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor - who were NCAA partial qualifiers last season. The redshirt duo practiced with the team following the fall 2011 semester. Both know Bill Self's system, and will have an immediate impact on the rotation and could crack into the starting lineup.
Five of the other seven freshmen on the roster are on scholarship: guards Rio Adams and Andrew White III and forwards Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas and Zach Peters. White led Kansas in scoring at 11.0 ppg in KU's four games in Switzerland and Paris in August 2012. Ellis was second in scoring during the trip at 10.3 ppg and he made 65 percent of his field goals. Lucas averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in Europe. Peters has a rotator cuff injury and has not practiced since Oct. 15. Additionally, freshmen walk-on guards Evan Manning and Tyler Self also provide depth in the backcourt. Manning has been hampered by a right ankle injury and, along with Young and Peters, will most likely not suit up against Emporia State.
About Emporia State
Located in Emporia, Kan., with an enrollment of 5,867, Emporia State lost at Tulsa 60-49 on Oct. 27, to open its 2012-13 season. The Hornets are coached by former Colorado great Shaun Vandiver who is in his second season as a head coach with a 9-18 record. ESU returns seven letterwinners, including two starters from last season's 9-18 team. The Hornets were 5-15 in the Mid America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in 2012, which finished eighth. Senior guard Chris Sights is ESU's leading returning scorer at 10.9 ppg in in 2011-12. Senior guard Taylor Euler is the other ESU returning starter having scored 8.0 ppg last season. Freshman Terrance Moore scored a team-high 12 points at Tulsa. Moore is a former high school teammate of Kansas freshman Perry Ellis at Wichita Heights in Wichita. Freshman guard Kaleb Wright was next in scoring with nine points at Tulsa, while sophomore forward Daniel Shaw pulled down a team-high nine rebounds to go along with his five points and junior forward Gavin Brown nabbed eight boards and had a team-high three assists at Tulsa.